Could science ever create the perfect food? Nutritionally sound, tasty, and filling?
“We have eggs, don’t we?” says AUT senior lecturer Dr Caryn Zinn.
An emphatic no is professor of food science Owen Young’s answer.
"Would we even want that? No", says associate professor of culinary arts, Dr Tracy Berno. “I think diversity - and I hate to use a bit of a cliché, is the spice of life – and I think that’s actually a very good thing."
Even were science to create the perfect food, people are unlikely to throw away a culture of eating together, and of enjoying food, the experts agree.
“We’ve got taste buds and flavour sensors in our nose that are absolutely fundamental to satisfaction,” says Owen Young.
Dr Berno references something called ‘commensality’ – the act of eating together, where food becomes the anchor of a social group. “You get more pleasure out of eating the food by sharing it with others. It’s just absolutely integral to our experience of eating.
“It’s really one of the things that makes us different than animals. Animals feed, we eat.”
What is the ideal diet? Well, opinions wildly vary, but Dr Zinn says the key is whole food. She says if people eat whole, unprocessed food, they probably eat fewer carbohydrates (and especially the bad ones), and more ‘healthy’ fat.
“I’m one of a group that thinks we’ve got it all wrong [with the current guidelines]. You might just look at our health statistics and agree, or you might say ‘no it’s just because people aren’t sticking to those guidelines and they’re eating fast food.’”
Part of the problem is ‘food literacy’, says Dr Berno – people don’t know how to cook any more. “I think talking about cost is sort of an easy opting-out in terms of nutrition. We’ve lost these fundamental skills and abilities.
“We’re into the second or third generation where people don’t simply know how to cook. And I am talking about very fundamental cooking like boiling pasta.”
As well as cooking skills, there’s also being able to navigate the world of diet and nutritional advice.
Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
The French don’t think so, points out Prof. Young.
“Most of what I do nowadays with nutrition goes against everything I’ve ever learned,” says Dr Zinn. “I’m beginning to realise that the whole ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is an industry-pushed message.”
“And so is ‘you’ve got to eat every two-to-three hours.’ Absolutely not. We don’t need to eat every two-to-three hours. In the old days, there was not food to be eaten [that often], and we’ve survived perfectly well as a species.”
Listen to the podcast to hear what the experts have to say about other nutritional wisdom – eight glasses of water? A balanced meal? The food pyramid and five plus a day?
New episodes of Great Ideas, recorded in collaboration with Auckland University of Technology, look at the ideas and trends shaping the future.